Mental toughness 

“Mental toughness is an essential part of performing at the highest level. No matter how talented you are, if you don’t have mental toughness, you will have serious problems. Whether you are a footballer, a golfer or a swimmer.

I have said it before, you play football with your head. You can be technically and tactically gifted and skilled, but if things in your head are not right, you are going to have a problem.”

Johan Cruyff, April 2015

Author: James

Lifelong player and student of the beautiful game in Germany, England, and USA. Volunteer futsal coach and USSF referee.

2 thoughts on “Mental toughness ”

  1. The problem i see in youth sports, too much of the time, and most recently in my own soccer leagues development program is:
    1. Coach: “If kids want to compete at a high-level, they need “mental toughness” to survive.”
    2. Coach: “Kids are going to get yelled at and dropped off teams, and disappointed, and asked to do more, etc. etc., as they climb the ladder”
    3. Coach: “Ergo, i will yell at the kids for every little mistake to “toughen them up”, and will be anemic with my “attaboys” to my players. if they can’t deal with it then they’re obviously not tough enough to play at higher levels”

    So, while i agree that kids need to have mental toughness, and while most kids and adults in the US have no idea what mental toughness really is, coaches need to realize:
    a) each kid needs to be coached differently
    b) everyone needs a balance of kudos and “not good enoughs” to be successful.



    1. Mental toughness is misunderstood mostly, especially by those coaches you describe. Mental toughness in the way Cruyff uses it and the way I see it refers to an ability to deal with setbacks, disappointments, and the realization that they are not the star player anymore as they move up the competitive ladder. Those that can handle that pressure and are able to focus on getting better through harder training have a better chance at success over the longer-term. Success at the top level comes from both MIND and BODY. I know youngsters that are athletically gifted and make an impact on their team, but don’t have the mental attitude/toughness to go much further. It’s obvious that these kids will drop off sooner or later. And kids that are used to success and then suddenly face setbacks can’t always deal with that successfully. What you are describing about coaches ‘toughening up’ their players through yelling etc. has nothing to do with the mental toughness I just described. It’s an excuse that these coaches use because they don’t know better. It’s nonsense, I agree with you.


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